Saturday night in the D.C. suburbs Gary Russell puts his WBC featherweight strap on the line against undefeated Joseph Diaz. This is an outstanding matchup–Russell is without question one of the division’s top three fighters and Diaz has established himself as a top-10 contender. Both men have stellar amateur resumes.
I first noticed Diaz in the 2012 Olympics, when he represented the United States as a teenager. In the second round of the tournament, he faced off with Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez, one of the most decorated amateur fighters in the Games. Diaz lost 21-15, but the scoring was suspect. And if I had been scoring those rounds under professional criteria, I would personally have given the nod to Diaz. It was clear he had a future in the professional game.
Six years later he is 26-0 with 14 KOs. Over the past few years, he has consistently defeated good, second-tier contenders. But Russell represents a huge move up in level.
Russell’s sole loss in 29 fights came by majority decision against pound-for-pound star Vasyl Lomachenko. I think it’s absurd that judge Lisa Giampa score the fight even. Like the two judges who were paying attention, I had Lomo winning eight rounds. At the same time, nobody has fought Lomachenko as tough since that fight. Russell is clearly a top-tier fighter.
In the featherweight division right now, Leo Santa Cruz, Carl Frampton and Russell stand on a platform well above everybody else. Saturday night, Diaz will get the opportunity to push his way into that crowd.
I’ll be very surprised if he does it, though. He is a very solid professional fighter but I do not see him having any answers for Russell’s explosive speed. Ultimately, I hope this is but a precursor to a showdown between Russell and Santa Cruz, a fight that is way overdue.